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Make Your Own Damn Party Mix

Store-bought party mix has grown stale, but it's easy to make something more exciting.

Party mix could stand to be a little more fun, yeah? Stagnation is pervasive in this category. The flavors and snack components aren't nearly as festive as the name would imply. Utz's party mix, for example, includes white tortilla chips, barbecue tortilla chips, crunchy cheese curls, pretzel wheels, and nacho tortilla chips. Herr's mix also contains crunchy cheese curls, tortilla chips, and pretzels. Munchies, a Frito-Lay brand, offers nacho cheese Doritos, Cheetos, Rold Gold pretzels, and Harvest Cheddar Sun Chips, all mixed together in one bag. Across the board, most party mix seems to be a combination of these three components: pretzels, tortilla chips, and crunchy cheese curls. That's all good and fine, but couldn't it be a little more flavorful? A little more exciting?

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The reason these party mixes fail is because they don't play to each brand's strengths. I ask you, is Herr's known to make the best tortilla chips? Does Utz make the best crunchy cheese curls? To me, the answer is a resounding "no." It's a shame, because both Herr's and Utz have an awesome catalogue of great savory snacks that just aren't being applied here.

For a product that proudly advertises the word "Party" on the label, party mix usually falls flat, especially in the face of so many new and exciting chip flavors.

Party mix, explained

The real appeal of party mix is that it's a cheap, convenient buy. A 10-oz. bag of Utz's Party Mix costs less than $3 at Walmart. Similarly, a 13-oz. bag of Munchies Cheese Fix goes for $6.39 at Target. You can simply dispense the bag into a bowl and put it out for guests.

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But making your own party mix undeniably produces more flavorful results. For those looking to get a little creative with their party food, mixing and matching store-bought chips and snacks is a much tastier and more innovative option. If nothing else, unusual food combinations will liven up a party. I have brought Hot Mustard Doritos and toum as a chip-and-dip combo to a barbecue, and I have also purchased a giant 3-lb. gummy worm and carved it on a Boos block like pork tenderloin. This is exactly my lane.

Making party mix at home

My thought process behind making party mix is simply to vary the flavors and textures as much as possible. I'm inspired by Maverik's Chaos Flavored Kettle Chips, which I tried earlier this year on a cross-country road trip. The combination of Salt & Vinegar, Barbecue, and Jalapeño flavored chips worked seamlessly when combined in a single bag. It's not just multiple types of chips that should be included in the ideal party mix, but multiple chip flavors, too. So, here are three party mixes I concocted at home, and how each one fared:

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Flavor Attack Party Mix: Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos, Cool Ranch Doritos, Jalapeño Cheddar Cheetos, and Snack Factory Garlic Parmesan Pretzel Crisps.

Here, I just decided to upgrade every component of what you see in a typical party mix. Jalapeño Cheddar Cheetos pop with more flavor than plain, and Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos bring a sweet, salty, umami punch that nacho cheese lacks. I don't like Cool Ranch Doritos, but you know who does? Most other people. A good party host should aim to please his guests.

This party mix brings a unique variety of flavor. In short, exactly the type of thing that's missing from other party mixes. Everything here is sweet and spicy and cheesy. It's a welcome departure from the party mixes of yesteryear.

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Puff Party Mix: Bugles, Jalapeño Cheddar Cheetos, Herr's Buffalo Blue Cheese Puffs, Herr's Jalapeño Cheese Curls, Siete Hint of Lime Tortilla Chips.

Here I sought to create something with a different texture than the classic crunchy-and-munchy, everything-is-stuck-in-your-teeth-at-once party mix.

This puffed party mix was airy and light, but still cheesy and delicious. Bugles rock, and they carry the straightforward salty flavor that you encounter with most party mixes. Overall, the texture was delightful. I omitted pretzels here, because I'm starting to think pretzels might be a tad bit overrated in a party mix. They don't really bring all that much to the party. In fact, they're kind of a drag.

Taking a bunch of awesome snack flavors and dumping them into a bowl is always a good idea, and even better when you start to experiment with the textures, too.

Sweet & Spicy Party Mix: Herr's Ketchup Chips, Flamin' Hot Nacho Doritos, Snyder's Peanut Butter Pretzels, Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos, Jalapeño Cheddar Cheetos.

Honestly, I wasn't totally sold on the idea of making one's own party mix until I concocted this sweet and spicy bowl of awesome, crunchy snacks.

This was a straight-up rollercoaster of loud flavor, and exactly the type of potent mixture that I hoped would justify the concept of homemade party mix to begin with. Getting a bite of Flamin' Hot Nacho Cheese Dorito followed by a sweet, tomato-y ketchup chip is pure bliss. Also, the pretzel problem here is eliminated by the peanut butter centers of the Snyder's. Jalapeño Cheddar Cheetos are a linchpin in any homemade party mix due to their ultra cheesy, spicy but mellow flavor. This was infinitely better than any party mix you'll buy at the store, and a perfect encapsulation of why people should be doing this in the first place: for only a few bucks more, you'll make a massive quantity of something that just tastes way better.

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